Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: Summer of Chasing Mermaids

Author: Sarah Ockler  
Publisher: Simon Pulse  
Pages: 368  
Review Copy: Digital ARC via Edelweiss

Summary via Goodreads: The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.

Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: An ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.

When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them . . .  

Author Summary: Sarah wrote a fun post on her blog that describes the book and also shared a bit about writing it.

My Review: This was a perfect summer book. First, there is the cover. The beach, shells, fun colors and real people that match the characters in the book. The setting worked too. It's summer at the beach albeit a cold beach. I hadn't read a romance for a while either so this was truly a winner.

I have to say, the summary put me off a bit. That description of Christian as an insolent and arrogant bad boy made me roll my eyes a bit and want to skip the book. I think the word mermaid and the cover were the saving grace at that point.

Fortunately, I ignored my concerns and dove in anyway. This book is more than a quick light romance between an innocent young girl and the notorious playboy. Ockler shares a unique story of a young woman finding herself after her world has turned upside-down. Elyse had believed her voice was her future and now she has to figure out who she is without her singing.

Elyse finds her way slowly and painfully. She's is surrounded by many people who are supporting her.  I loved meeting the community in Atargatis Cove. Lemon, Elyse's boss and mentor, allows her to have the space and time that she needs. There were many characters that appealed to me. I even appreciated Christian's little brother. He loves the mermaids and even wants to dress up as one. At that point, gender roles and expectations become an issue for Christian and his family. 

That's what worked in this book. It isn't simply a romance. It isn't only about a girl physically unable to speak. The story is way more complex than that. This isn't a light and fluffy book though there are moments that had me belly laughing. Readers can expect to find many things to ponder in this lovely novel.

I will be recommending this one to many readers. The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is the first Sarah Ockler book that I've read, but it will not be the last. If you're looking for a romance with some substance, grab yourself a copy this summer, you won't regret it. If you aren't convinced yet, visit a few more of the reviewers on the book tour.

Author Info: 

Sarah Ockler is the bestselling author of six young adult novels: Twenty Boy Summer, Fixing Delilah, Bittersweet, The Book of Broken Hearts, #scandal, and The Summer of Chasing Mermaids. Her books have been translated into several languages and have received numerous accolades, including ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, Girls’ Life Top 100 Must Reads, Indie Next List, Amazon Top Movers and Shakers, and nominations for YALSA Teens’ Top Ten and NPR’s Top 100 Teen Books. Her short works have appeared in the anthologies Dear Teen Me and Defy the Dark.

She’s a champion cupcake eater, tea drinker, tarot enthusiast, night person, and bookworm. When she’s not writing or reading at home in the Pacific northwest, Sarah enjoys hugging trees and road-tripping through the country with her husband, Alex. Fans can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and at

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge

Alyson Beecher over at Kid Lit Frenzy hosts a Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge and has a roundup every Wednesday. I love the encouragement to explore more non-fiction. I am thankful that she has this challenge because I know I have read more nonfiction texts as a result.

The two best nonfiction books I've read lately came in my recent Junior Library Guild shipment. 

The Blue Whale by Jenni Desmond 

This is a gorgeous book that appears to be fiction at first glance. Even on the first page it seems so as a boy is shown beginning to read a book. But then, we essentially read the book he is reading and learn along with him. There are many interesting and fascinating facts about blue whales revealed throughout the text. The illustrations are beautiful watercolor paintings that help to share the life of the blue whale, but many also help to explain the text for young readers. I love the spread where she compares the weight of the whale to 55 hippopotami. A pile of randomly colored hippopotami with a young child sitting on top is so fun. This particular picture is done in collage. She has provided a lovely balance of facts and fancy that will fill students with wonder while making them giggle sometimes too. If you want to see some samples of the illustrations, visit the authors page here and click on the book.

Written by Tanya Lee Stone 
Illustrated by Kathryn Brown

I have heard of Jane Addams and Hull House in the past, but did not realize how much Jane Addams accomplished and how much she gave of herself. This book provides a glimpse into her beliefs and motivations. It also shares the many things she was able to accomplish. After reading this, I wanted to know more about her. I also wondered if some of her methods or beliefs were controversial beyond the pacifism that was mentioned and some of her political activity. This is a wonderful look into Jane's life and would be a great book to include when studying people who have made a difference. The illustrations are well-done artistically, though they do seem to romanticize the people and the situation to a certain degree. You may get a look at some of the illustrations here. The back matter adds more about her life and best of all, actual photographs of Jane Addams.

Monday, July 27, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. Jen Vincent over at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye from Unleashing Readers decided to put a children's and YA spin on it and they invite anyone with an interest to join in. You can participate by creating your post then visit one of their sites to add your site. Finally, visit at least three participant blogs and comment to spread the love.

If you want to know more about what I am reading, visit me at my Goodreads shelf. Images via Goodreads unless otherwise noted.

Whew! In the past 33 days, I have slept in my own house only 7 times. I am done traveling for a while. I loved my time away, but am super happy to be home.

I've had some fantastic adventures, but haven't been so good at blogging.

One of the great things that happened while I was away was meeting Debbie Ridpath Ohi while we were in Canada.

This involved a nice trip to the Indigo Chapters bookstore and some book purchases including Where Are My Books? by Debbie. She is so fun and welcoming. She's also an encourager. I love being around people who are looking for the positives in everyone. I'm excited because some of my classes will be Skyping with Debbie this year!! Where Are My Books? is an adorable book that I'll be sharing with many of my classes early in the school year.

I came back to a pile of books that I need to review. I took care of two right away. 

A very fun middle grade/early chapter book Letters From Heaven by Lydia Gil

An intense YA novel The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell

Here are the rest of the books I've been reading lately:

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste is a lot of creepy fun. Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older is also creepy, but on a young adult level so obviously even more so. Both were very well done and high on my recommendation list. 

Two others that really stood out were The Blue Whale and Little Robot. The Blue Whale looks like it might be fiction, but is really a nonfiction picture book chock full of information about these amazing creatures. Little Robot is another wonderful adventure from Ben Hatke. Like his other graphic novels, it is creative, fun and quirky too. 

The Judy Blume book, Iggie's House was new to me. I have a collection of Judy Blume books that were reissued with Debbie Ridpath Ohi's new cover art. Somehow I had missed reading this historical fiction that deals with racism in the sixties. The message is delivered with a slightly heavy hand, but certainly touches on key points that are still relevant. 

The Coming Week:
I just started The House of Hades which is a monster at 597 pages, but it is going pretty quickly. I'm also reading Kate Messner's book 59 Reasons to Write. I've ordered a few books at the library from my #MustRead2015 list, so will chip away at that while I still have free time. Otherwise, I will be picking up more nonfiction picture books for that challenge too. Have a great week filled with excellent reading!  

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: Letters from Heaven/Cartas del cielo

Title: Letters From Heaven/Cartas del cielo
Author: Lydia Gil
Illustrator: Leonardo Mora
Publisher: Piñata Books/Arte Publico Press
Pages: 116
Availability: On shelves now
Review Copy: Final copy via publisher

Summary: Celeste is heartbroken when her grandmother dies. But everything changes when a letter mysteriously comes in the mail—from Grandma! “I know you miss me as much as I miss you. Don’t be sad. Where there is love, there is no sadness.” As letters continue to arrive from the beyond, each with a recipe of a favorite food her grandmother used to prepare, Celeste consoles herself by learning how to cook the dishes. Meanwhile, without Grandma’s social security check, Mami needs to get a second job to make ends meet. Celeste has to quit dance lessons, and a bully at school gloats that she will replace Celeste as the star in the upcoming recital. To top things off, her friends think that she’s gone crazy; dead people can’t send letters! When a final letter arrives, Celeste realizes that all the recipes combined make an entire meal: café con leche, guava and cheese croissants, congrí, plantain chips, ropa vieja and flan. Can she really make a Cuban feast to celebrate her cherished grandmother’s life?

A tender story of family and friendship, Letters from Heaven / Cartas del cielo celebrates Latino traditions, especially those of the Spanish Caribbean. This entertaining novel is written in ten brief chapters for children ages 8-12 and includes six traditional Cuban recipes with easy-to-follow instructions.

Review: I am a complete sucker for books that include recipes and this one has me itching to get in the kitchen. There are six recipes that together create a complete meal if one is brave enough. The description above says they are easy-to-follow, but the flan looks a bit tough to do. I will probably give it a try though.

The story itself has a little bit of everything. Celeste is grieving after the death of her grandmother, but she also has a good adult support system. There is also a friendship and bullying component. And of course, food plays a very important role. Lydia Gil provides characters and situations that are believable and interesting too. Overall, it's a story of family love and how that can be expressed and celebrated in and around food.

Early readers of chapter books will find this story to be both quick and engaging. They will likely want to try some of the recipes too. All of the recipes involve cooking so adult supervision will be necessary. Some of the recipes, like the flan, may seem a bit intimidating, but they all look like they lead to deliciousness.

As the title implies, this book has text in both Spanish and English. It's a flip book so the texts are kept separate though there are a few italicized Spanish words in the English portion. For readers who don't know Spanish, the words are almost always easily understood through context, but even if they aren't, major plot comprehension issues won't be likely.

This is a great early chapter book for any young readers. I definitely recommend it especially for libraries looking to include books from a variety of cultures.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge

Alyson Beecher over at Kid Lit Frenzy hosts a Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge and has a roundup every Wednesday. I love the encouragement to explore more non-fiction. I am thankful that she has this challenge because I know I have read more nonfiction texts as a result.

This will be a combination post with two books I've read recently and a few that are on my pile to be read soon. First for my vacation finds.

Astounding ABC produced by the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto

Goodreads Summary: From an arch and a lantern to an owl and a zoo, this ABC spelling book illustrates letters from the Latin alphabet with details from the Aga Khan Museum's superb collection of paintings, illuminated manuscripts, ceramics, metalwork, coins, and tiles from the 12th to 19th centuries. The board book offers an accessible introduction for very young children to the Museum's collection, showcasing a rich diversity of works from around the world, including Egypt, Sicily, India, Turkey, and Iran. Proving that learning can be fun, colourful, and exciting, Astounding ABC encourages children to explore the Museum's collection through animals, nature, historical figures, and a variety of artifacts.

My Thoughts: I loved this look at art from Muslim civilizations around the world. This book would be perfect to share before or after a visit to the Aga Khan Museum, but it is also a beautiful ABC book for children without physical access to the museum collection. The words used in the text are simple and the images that accompany them are vivid and interesting. I find it especially intriguing to see a king portrayed not with a crown, but a turban. It provides a look at artistic patterns and styles of dress that most of my students would not normally see in their daily lives.
The Aga Khan Museum

The Little RijksMuseum produced by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

Goodreads Summary: More than 120 works of art or details from them can be seen in this Little Rijksmuseum. Their creators are Rembrandt, Vermeer, Steen, Breitner, Van Gogh and other famous artists. From angel to windmill and beetle to zebra, these and many more... allow a fascinating glimpse into the national treasure-house of the Rijksmuseum.

My Thoughts:  Again, this would be a wonderful book to share with children before or after a visit to the museum. It is so fun to visit a museum and then watch for specific works of art. It's also nice to look at the images and remember the ones that you saw on your trip. That's what I like about this book. It makes a great reminder. There are works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Vermeer along with many others that are less familiar. Even without the visit though, anyone interested in art would love this bookish walk through the museum.

Books to Read Soon

 The Blue Whale by Jenni Desmond

The Call of the Osprey by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent with Photographs by William Muñoz

Monday, July 13, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. Jen Vincent over at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye from Unleashing Readers decided to put a children's and YA spin on it and they invite anyone with an interest to join in. You can participate by creating your post then visit one of their sites to add your site. Finally, visit at least three participant blogs and comment to spread the love.

If you want to know more about what I am reading, visit me at my Goodreads shelf. Images via Goodreads unless otherwise noted.

I have been on vacation for a few weeks and haven't reported on my reading, but it would be a ton of titles so I will just hit some of the highlights.

Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family was an audio book offered by It was a fantastic way to hear another perspective after re-reading Anne Frank's diary a few weeks ago. I also enjoyed learning about how and why Miep helped the family. This book was particularly interesting to me since my husband and I were able to tour the Anne Frank house during a visit to Amsterdam.

Also related to that trip are books I purchased and read while there. The Little Rijksmuseum (the link takes you to an excellent review by @globalmouse1) is a great book with simple words on a page matched with a piece or section of a piece of art from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I saw the book before visiting the museum then also found a copy in the amazing library within the museum. Then I really wanted to get my own. Luckily, I found it again in the bookstore around the corner from our hotel the morning we left.

Another book I read there in the Rijksmuseum is Miffy at the Gallery. I found a copy at another bookstore, but not in English. I bought it in Dutch with the title nijntje in het museum. It's fun to have it in another language. I didn't know that Miffy had a different name in her homeland. Nijntje is a short form of little rabbit. She was also on display outside the museum since it was her 60th anniversary this year. I kept finding her all over town in bookstores and libraries.

In front of the museum
At Scheltema (a bookstore)
At the library

This is a flip book - Scrumple Dirty/Scrumple Clean. When you flip it over, you have the second story. It's by the Dutch author of Jip and Janneke. The book made me laugh out loud as did this hilarious review on Goodreads comparing Dutch and German children's literature. I don't think she is reviewing this exact book, but Scrumple doesn't have very negative consequences in this book either. We own a copy of the German book she refers to and it's true the mischievous children have quite negative and often violent consequences.

Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes is one of my #MustReadin2015 books. I loved how it shared about people that are well-known, but also shed light on people that would be new to most readers. The biographies are not very long and the book can be used as a reference work or be read straight through.

The Coming Week:
I am traveling again - this time to Toronto. I know I will read some books written or illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi in honor of being in her hometown. Other than that, I am not sure what I will accomplish. It will be a surprise. Have a great week!

Friday, July 10, 2015


Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres has a link-up on weekends where people link to posts that are celebrations about their week. I love this reminder to celebrate every week.

I had a fantastic vacation with my husband as we celebrated twenty-five years of marriage a smidge early (August 11th is the actual date). We spent five days in Amsterdam alone before heading to Germany to visit with family and friends and had one final day alone in Brussels before heading home. Here are a few of the 1,000+ photos that were taken along the way.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

#MustReadin2015 Update

The fantastic Carrie Gelson organized a reading challenge to help herself and others whittle down the books on their To Be Read list/pile. My #MustReadin2015 list has 53 books on it and is housed on a Goodreads shelf.

I've read 30/53 books on my #MustRead2015 list. Many of them have been simply amazing. Here are the ones that stand out from the rest.

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

The more I look at the list though, the more titles I want to say are stand-outs. I think I will leave it at that, but know that many of these were fantastic books that spoke to me.
I have two of the books on my list checked out right now. I'm currently reading Circus Mirandus and have Boarding School Blues on deck. 

I'm so glad that Carrie has this challenge going because it does keep these titles fresh in my mind so they aren't forgotten.